England veteran Jermain Defoe set to return from international wilderness

Dominic Fifield
Jermain Defoe in training at Tottenham’s Enfield complex on Saturday. The Sunderland striker is set to replace Jamie Vardy in England’s starting lineup against Lithuania on Sunday. Photograph: Leicester/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

Jermain Defoe is poised to represent his country for the first time in almost three and a half years as Gareth Southgate seeks to prise apart Lithuania’s attempts at stubborn defence and maintain England’s leadership of Group F.

Southgate is expected to start with the 34-year-old striker, whose 55th and most recent cap came against Chile in November 2013, and recall Raheem Sterling, recovered from a slight knock, to his starting lineup at Wembley against the team ranked 107th in the world. The 3-4-3 system adopted for the friendly defeat in Germany in the week is likely to revert to 4-1-4-1, with the quartet of attack‑minded players in front of Eric Dier playing just behind the Sunderland forward.

Defoe, who has scored 14 Premier League goals this season, trained in the role at Tottenham Hotspur’s Enfield base on Saturday and would replace Jamie Vardy, despite the latter’s encouraging performance in Dortmund, in anticipation of the visitors’ flinging down massed defence.

“They’re both in very good moments,” Southgate said of the two strikers. “Jamie, in the last two games for us, Spain and Germany, has set the tone for the performances from the front with the way he presses and runs in behind defences. And he’s in good form for his club. Equally, Jermain is scoring goals for his club, doesn’t get too many chances, but he’s a deadly finisher. If called upon, I have every faith that he’ll score goals. No question.

“I’ve been really impressed with his contribution to the group this week. It’s great for the younger players to see a player of his experience with that hunger still, and not just to score goals. He’s always had that, and I was in the squad when he first came into the national set-up. But also with the way he looks after himself. He’s in fantastic physical condition, very conscious of his diet, and he passes on his experience to the group.”

Bradley Lowery, the five-year-old Sunderland fan suffering from neuroblastoma whom Defoe recently visited in hospital, will be a mascot at the qualifying fixture. Joe Hart will captain the team against Lithuania, though Southgate has reiterated he still considers the last permanent captain, Wayne Rooney, to have a future with the national side. The Manchester United forward returned to individual ball work at the end of last week and will play a full part in training with his club team at Carrington after the international break, with his own sights set on regaining his place for the World Cup in Russia. “Absolutely,” Southgate said when asked if Rooney remains in his thinking. “I didn’t understand why we were talking about tributes [in midweek] when he still has every chance of being in this team. I’m conscious that we’ll be talking about Wayne again and I’d rather be talking about the players who are here, but there’s no reason to think he’s finished with us.”

Tributes will be paid to the former England manager Graham Taylor, who died at the age of 72 earlier this year, ahead of kick-off on Sunday with his wife, Rita, and family guests in the Royal Box. Wreaths will be laid and a minute’s silence observed for the victims of the Westminster terrorist attack.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has confirmed his attendance at Wembley and the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Karen Bradley, will also be there with Greg Clarke, the FA chairman. An FA spokesperson said: “Fan safety is of paramount importance and we have robust security measures in place at Wembley Stadium. In collaboration with the local authorities and the Metropolitan police there will be an enhanced security operation for the England v Lithuania match on Sunday, to ensure a safe and secure environment for spectators. All supporters are encouraged to arrive as early as possible to avoid any delays in entering the stadium.”

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